Last week the ONS announced that Poland has overtaken India as the most common foreign country of birth for UK residents. There were 831,000 Polish-born people residing in the UK in 2015, and in the same year Polish-born mothers registered 22,928 births. Approximately 3.2 million EU citizens live in the UK, all of whom have had a shadow of uncertainty cast over their right to live and work in the UK following Brexit.
As hostility towards migration mobilised support for the Vote Leave campaign, this issue will be a focal point of Brexit negotiations. The fact that Polish migration alone has increased eight-fold since 2004 will be scrutinised and may put further pressure on the government to curb EU migration. Here are three things to consider about the latest figures.
Polish immigrants make exceptional contributions to the UK
From the pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain to the nurses and social workers in the UK today, Polish migrants contribute a great deal. They have the highest rate of individuals in employment or further education among all ethnic groups in Britain, at 92%. Considering that 12% of 16-24 year olds in Britain were NEETs in January-March 2016 – above the OECD average – something can be said for the Polish work ethic. The high employment rates among this group reflect not taking jobs from Britons, but a culture of hard work.
The opportunity to live in Britain is embraced by Polish migrants. The blood donation drive among the Polish community against a rising tide of xenophobia prior to the EU referendum is but one example of this. Their commitment to British life and values has been proven repeatedly.
The UK economy relies on migration
EU immigration, which Poland dominates, is positive for the UK economy overall. Europe’s population is ageing rapidly which is impeding growth. That Britain has a strong labour supply should therefore be celebrated. EU migrants have helped reduce the UK age dependency ratio, have precipitated an increase in real GDP, and contribute more in taxation than they receive in benefits and tax credits.
Brexiteers are not unified on immigration
The expulsion of EU migrants is unlikely, but current UK net migration is estimated at 327,000, and these latest figures loom over Brexit negotiations. However, prominent Leave campaigners spoke positively about immigration. Lord Wolfson was concerned about the “chilling” effect that reducing net migration could have on the economy, while Daniel Hannan MEP stressed the importance of the free movement of labour. Points-based controls have been advocated, but even if we are seeking the “right” kind of immigration, Polish people have surely demonstrated that they fit the bill.
Immigration has been a huge benefit to the UK economy, and Polish contributions have to be acknowledged. The economic impact of this group, and of EU migrants generally, has proven vital. This must be remembered in negotiations, and should temper the alarmist tone of media responses to the latest ONS figures.